Once a soft-spoken rookie playing alongside Washington Redskins legendary linebacker London Fletcher,
Registering 244 tackles – including a team-high 115 in 2013 -- and 6.5 sacks over the last two seasons, Riley Jr. is one of the more consistent players on a unit that features flashy assets like lethal pass-rushers
But while Riley Jr. hit several benchmarks during the 2013 season and really solidified himself at the Jack linebacker role, the defense as a whole struggled to contain opponents.
After going through several frustrating end results last season, Riley Jr. said the Redskins' defensive mindset entering the 2014 season is drastically different.
This unit is hungry -- and ready to prove it.
“Schematically (it’s) the same defense, I would say the only difference is out mindset,” Riley Jr. said. “We have a different mindset going into this year. We’re going to be a defense that’s going to be feared. We (weren't) that way last year, and it wasn’t acceptable.
“We’re going to bring the pain. We’re going to do the hittin’.”
It's All About The Hands
Despite his steadiness last season, Riley said he still had plenty to work on in his individual game this offseason.
Yes, covering and tackling are his main attributes, but the former LSU Tiger said there was one facet of his game that he believed to be somewhat lacking in recent seasons: proper usage of his hands.
“I just wanted to make sure that I just worked on getting off blocks and using my hands more,” Riley Jr. said. “I felt like in years past, I didn’t really do a good job using my hands, kind of just gave my shoulder.
“I also [worked on] on my zone drops. Just using my hands as far as getting off blocks and fighting off O-lineman.”
Working With A Returning Olivadotti
Drafted by the Redskins with the 103rd-overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Riley Jr.’s first season was spent under the guidance of inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti.
But Olivadotti – who helped the Redskins finish in the top-10 in total defense eight times during an 11-season stint that started in 2000 – left Washington after the 2010 season to join the University of Georgia’s coaching staff.
Returning this offseason to work with head coach Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, Olivadotti is back -- and Riley Jr. couldn’t be happier.
He is one of the reasons the fifth-year veteran has been focusing on his hand technique.
“He was here my rookie year, and then he left and then came back, so I was familiar with him from earlier,” Riley Jr. explained. “But I love working with him. He’s a great coach. He’s done a great job of working with me on my hands and things I felt I needed to work on the most.”
An Increase In Reps
The first-team defense set the tone for what became a standout performance in the Redskins’ 23-6 victory over the New England Patriots in Week 1 of the preseason.
Forcing two-straight three-and-outs to start the game, the defensive unit bottled up the run game and flustered quarterback Ryan Mallett into making several errant passes.
After watching the game film -- and putting in a "tremendous" performance -- Riley Jr. believes the first-team defense will see a major upsurge in repetitions in the Week 2 matchup with the Cleveland Browns at FedExField
Head coach Jay Gruden said the starting units will play at least a quarter in tonight's game, and Riley is expecting to see his defense continue to play at a very high level.
“For the defense, it’s to look as good as we did in preseason game No. 1, and that’s from the first group all the way to the third group,” Riley Jr. told Redskins.com TV's Larry Michael. “The young guys did a great job, the older guys got seven snaps, so this game we’ll get more. We looked good for seven, now we have to look good for 27.”